If you're frequently fatigued or suffer from low energy—despite getting adequate sleep—it's time you learned a thing or two about your mitochondria. They play an enormously important role in the way your body stores and uses energy.
So what are mitochondria, and what role do they play in your health? Mitochondria are organelles present in every cell in your body that work to produce the energy for that cell and, by extension, for the organ in which that cell resides. Depending upon how metabolically active the organ is, there will be varying numbers of mitochondria in each cell. For example, the muscles and the brain are very metabolically active, so they contain many mitochondria.
The history of mitochondria.
Mitochondria were once simple independent organisms, but over time they incorporated themselves into our cells because we developed a symbiotic, or mutually beneficial, relationship with them. We offered protection and they fed us energy; hence, they have their own DNA that is different from the DNA within the nucleus of our cells. These organelles make energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) by a chain of enzymes called the respiratory chain. This respiratory chain is composed of five enzyme complexes and two carriers of the electrons needed to generate the energy.
It's possible for your mitochondria to fall ill, something we call mitochondrial disease. And while the genetics of this are very complex, in the last decade or so, we've come to understand that there is a spectrum of mitochondrial dysfunction. Problems with the respiratory chain follow the adage of the weakest link. If any of the five complexes are not performing their job efficiently, they are the weak link in the chain, and energy production may be compromised. Any further burden on the mitochondria makes that compromise even worse—so illness, stress, infection, environmental toxins, and other factors can result in fatigue, weakness, and a prolonged recovery from exercise or any exertion.
How to support your cells' energy:
These enzymes need cofactors. And cofactors come in the form of vitamins and other compounds. Those with mitochondrial disease are placed on a "mitochondrial cocktail," which has many different components. If concerned about your energy states, I often recommend the following:
1. See your physician and have a thorough examination as there are some potentially treatable reasons why we become tired.
2. Consider a mitochondrial work-up; your doctor can run a bunch of lab tests that will give you more info about your mitochondria health.
3. Supplement coenzyme Q10, which is necessary for the respiratory chain to function.
4. Supplement carnitine. This is required for the effective transfer of fatty acids to be used as substrates for the generation of energy.
5. Follow an anti-inflammatory lifestyle, as inflammation is a huge burden on the mitochondria. This can be done by proper nutrition, sleep, and movement.
Now more than ever before we understand that true self-care can have exponential effects on our physiology and long-term well-being.